Students, experts begin count of city's homeless

January 22, 2009|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

More than 100 volunteers, including experts and students from two Baltimore universities, embark today on a census that will use survey techniques and global positioning technology to count and track the city's homeless population.

Organizers said yesterday that they planned to start collecting information beginning at 1 a.m. today, visiting spots in a 50-block area in the central city where homeless people are known to sleep. A later shift of volunteers will visit soup kitchens, day shelters and other places in the city where homeless people congregate during daylight hours, officials said.

Volunteers will mark locations where homeless people are found and return at a later date to record the spots using global positioning system devices.

The goal is to create a map of homeless activity that's useful for the city and nonprofit agencies that provide services to homeless people, officials said.

The survey will update statistics compiled two years ago, which estimated that about 3,000 men, women and children were homeless in Baltimore.

But that study found only 30 homeless people between the ages of 10 and 24. A parallel pilot study completed that year by the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found 272 "homeless and unstably housed" young people - a number nine times larger.

"Counting them is the first step in figuring out how to do services and programs that help this population," said Jayne Blanchard, a communications specialist with the Center for Adolescent Health. "These youth don't see themselves as homeless. They disdain shelters. They don't like the shelter model. They prefer to remain invisible.

"Homeless youth are a particularly vulnerable population because a lot of their behavior is for survival. ... They're living rather risky, dangerous lives."

The Hopkins center is working on the homeless survey with the Baltimore Homeless Youth Initiative, Baltimore Homeless Services and Morgan State University's School of Architecture and Planning.

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